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Coronavirus Victoria update: What is a Code Brown? Everything you need to know about the emergency measure for hospitals


Hospitalisations are expected to soar past 2500 COVID-19 patients next month, triggering the emergency activation across all Melbourne public hospitals and major regional facilities as of midday tomorrow.

The emergency measure aims to relieve hospitals and staff from unsustainable pressure, by reconfiguring workers and systems.

Here’s everything you need to know about what a Code Brown declaration means.

Hospital staff during pandemic COVID-19
A Code Brown measure has been activated in Victoria. (Getty)

A Code Brown is a formal emergency management structure that aims to make the best use of hospital resources.

According to the Department of Health, a Code Brown is used to plan, prepare, respond and recover from an external emergency.

In Victoria, the most common external emergencies requiring activation of Code Brown plans include transport accidents, chemical spills and natural emergencies such as fire and flood.

However, this is the first time a Code Brown has been declared system-wide across the state.

Health services and facilities use a set of colour codes for both internal and external emergencies that are recognised nationwide – hence the word “brown”.

When is a Code Brown called?

A Code Brown is activated by a health service or facility (or in this case, the Victorian Government to apply to all Melbourne hospitals and major regional facilities) when additional capability and capacity needs to be mobilised to receive an influx of patients due to an external emergency.

Ambulances are seen at St Vincent’s Hospital in Melbourne last week. (Getty)

What impact will this Code Brown have?

Hospitals and health services could reconfigure services to free up more staff, including the delivery of outpatient services outside the hospital and the rapid offload of ambulance patients at emergency departments.

Hospitals may also choose to redeploy staff to work in areas of highest clinical priority.

Non-urgent clinical services may be ceased, reduced or changed in frequency in terms of access.

Staff may also be asked to defer taking leave if it is essential.

Why is calling a Code Brown necessary?

Victoria’s Deputy Premier James Merlino said the Code Brown would help better manage the immense pressure hospitals are facing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Healthcare workers are bracing for hospitalisations to surge past 2500 COVID-19 patients next month and therefore must reconfigure their systematic approach.

“We’ve reached a point in our health system where it’s juggling severe workforce shortages,” Mr Merlino said.

“It is the right time to do it now, not wait for a Code Brown until two or three weeks down the track when we’re seeing the impact of the peak of Omicron hospitalisations and ICU patients.”

The Code Brown is expected to last four to six weeks or until health officials say otherwise.



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